Having advanced through the group stage undefeated, the Opals are enjoying a two-day break while China had to defeat Japan last night in a Quarter-Final qualifier to set up the clash with Australia.
They will meet at 11pm AEST with the game scheduled to be broadcast live on FOX Sports Australia channel 505.
Opals: Australia cruised through the group stage of the 2018 FIBA World Cup, defeating Nigeria, Argentina and Turkey by an average margin of 28 points. They have not lost a group stage game at the World Cup since 1994, owning a 20-0 record since then and they will now be aiming to convert that form into a medal after winning three bronze and a gold in the past five tournaments.
The Aussies have also not trailed for a second of game time during their first three games with Liz Cambage providing the knock-out punch within the opening few minutes of every contest. China must do everything they can to stop that initial onslaught and avoid playing catch-up ball for the entire game.
🇦🇺😱 So the game just started and @ECambage already has 10pts in 6min...
— FIBA (@FIBA) September 23, 2018
China: Just escaping Latvia in their first game of the group stage, China then pushed the USA all the way the following day before falling by ten points. A nine-point win against Senegal booked them a place in the Quarter-Final qualifier against Japan and they were able to end a seven-year drought against Japan with a six-point victory.
China had their struggles though, giving up an 8-0 run in a minute to see their ten-point lead drop to two with just 1:15 remaining. They hung on though, finishing on a 6-2 run and are now aiming to improve on their best result since 1994 which was a sixth-placed result in 2014.
The Opals' back court has not truly been tested so far at the 2018 FIBA World Cup but they will face their toughest challenge so far against China on Friday night. Katie Ebzery has not been able to find her shot, hitting just 23%, but with Cambage the focus of the offence, Ebzery's main job is to get the ball down low to the star centre and she is averaging 3.3 assists.
Steph Talbot's defence does not always show up on the stat-sheet but she has been stellar in guarding the perimeter, helping the Opals to restrict their opponents to 19-67 (28%) three-point shooting. She found her own shot against Turkey, nailing two three's in a blistering first quarter and is also averaging 3.7 assists.
Playing for the New York Liberty in the USA since 2015, Rebecca Allen may be off the radar for most Australian fans but she has settled back into the national side with ease. Backing up Cambage, Allen has looked to find her stroke early and by helping to give the Opals such commanding leads in the first quarter, she has only had to play 21 minutes per game. Despite that, the wing is still averaging nine points, five rebounds and 3.3 assists while sitting second within the team for steals with one per contest.
The Aussies will be wary of China's speed and their desire to hurt the Opals in transition with an average of ten fast-break points per game.
Yuan Li is a pass-first guard, recording 4.3 points and only 2.5 points per game but the likes of Ting Shao (12.8 points) and Meng Li (10.5 points) keep the scoreboard ticking over.
This is where Australia should have a serious advantage. Cambage has been the player of the tournament so far, leading all scorers with 27.7 points per game (eight more than any other player) and she has done her damage in just 21 minutes per game (less than any other player in the top seven scorers).
The centre also sits seventh for rebounds (8.7 per game) and second for blocks (1.7) while she has proven her ability to bring the ball up the floor as well as shoot the three-ball.
— FIBA (@FIBA) September 22, 2018
Supporting her in a quiet but impressive role, Dallas Wings team mate Cayla George is hitting a three-pointer per contest while also leading the team with an astounding 4.3 assists per game. Most of those assists come in a the two-woman game with Cambage but George has great court awareness and is just as good at finding the open shooter.
They will take on the likes of Yueru Li and Xu Han, both standing at over 200cm, and Han is placed in the top three for rejections just under Cambage. Their strength is still the issue though, having to contend with Cambage under the rim which no opposition player has been able to do successfully yet.
One player that could surprise is Huang Sijing who exploded for 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, one steal and two blocks against Japan.
One criticism of the Opals has been their performance when Cambage has sat but back-ups in Alex Bunton (+2.0), Ezi Magbegor (+7.3) and Alanna Smith (+13.3) all have a strong plus/minus differential. Australia's dominant first halves have also enabled Magbegor (19 years old) and Smith (still attending Stanford College) to get significant court time and show that they well and truly belong on the international stage.
Another player who has proven herself is Sami Whitcomb, a late replacement for Leilani Mitchell. Coming off a WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm earlier this month, Whitcomb has brought her trademark quick-release shot and active defence to the Opals where she is averaging 11.7 points on 40% three-point shooting and 1.7 steals (equal sixth in the tournament).
Following on from Cambage, Whitcomb has been unstoppable coming off the bench and together, they are proving to be a deadly one-two punch.
Combined, the Australian bench are averaging 35.6 points per game and every active player hit the scoreboard against Turkey but incredibly, China have bettered that with 39.8 points.
Against Japan, they had ten players get on the scoreboard with Sijing controlling proceedings and Liwei Yang hitting 4-6 from long range to finish with 16 points on 75% shooting. Both players will be entering the Quarter-Final with confidence.
This game is a re-match of the 2012 Olympics Quarter-Final when the Opals prevailed 75-60 behind 17 points and seven rebounds from Cambage and eight points, six boards and three assists from Jenna O'Hea. Managing a calf strain through the first three contests, it will be interesting to see if O'Hea hits the floor against China with every game from this point on an elimination.
China may pose the biggest threat so far for the Opals' gold medal hopes and with such a deep roster, they will back themselves to keep pace with every line-up that Australia can throw at them. Cambage is the difference-maker though and so far, no opposition player has been able to slow her down.
The Chemist Warehouse Australian Opals Schedule for the FIBA Women’s World Cup (all times AEST):
September 22: Australia def. Nigeria (86-68)
September 23: Australia def. Argentina (84-43)
September 25: Australia def. Turkey (90-64)
September 28: Australia vs. China at 11pm AEST (FOX Sports Aus 505)
September 29: Semi-Finals
September 30: Medal Games